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Stefanik maintains there’s ‘no quid pro quo’ between Trump and Ukraine

Rep. Elise Stefanik

PLATTSBURGH — Despite Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s apparent admission to the contrary, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik maintains that President Donald Trump made no quid pro quo during his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Addressing reporters in a press briefing Thursday, Mulvaney indicated that hundreds of millions in military aid was withheld from Ukraine in order to pressure the country into participating in a U.S. Department of Justice probe into the 2016 election.

He later walked back his comments.

“Again, I look at the transcript,” Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said Thursday, referring to a memo documenting the two presidents’ phone conversation.

“There is nothing impeachable in the transcript. There was no quid pro quo.”

Transparency

Stefanik is glad the “transcript” — which she interprets as detailing a conversation about rooting out corruption in Ukraine — was released to the American public.

“One of the most important tools of American leadership is working to get rid of corruption,” she said.

“Whether Ukraine had any part in 2016, I think we still haven’t gotten to the bottom fully of the complexity of the meddling in our elections in 2016.”

During the impeachment inquiry, Republicans — including Stefanik — have pushed for full transparency of witness testimonies.

Democrats have countered that the closed-door format they are following is typical best practice, since it prevents witnesses from lining up their stories.

“My take is transparency is always the most potent solution and when you are dealing with impeachment proceedings — which is more than a political buzzword, it’s a very serious constitutional matter — the American public and members of Congress should have access to all of that material,” Stefanik said.

The congresswoman reiterated her frustration that the American public has had to read “excerpts and cherry-picked information” which she believes has been leaked, whether by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s office or other members, inappropriately.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that not even members of Congress can read these transcripts unless you serve on those committees,” Stefanik said.

Letter to Schiff

On Friday, Stefanik and her fellow Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee sent a letter to Schiff expressing concerns that the committee’s Democratic majority members are knowingly withholding documents related to the inquiry from Republican minority members.

“Rule VII of the Rules of the House of Representatives outlines the Chair’s responsibility to retain documents related to the ‘legislative, oversight, or other activity’ of the committee, including its subcommittees,” the members wrote.

The House Intelligence Committee has historically used a document repository to allow for cleared staff to have access to committee documents.

However, the members say it has come to their attention through discussions with minority staff from the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on Foreign Affairs that majority members are not uploading certain documents related to the impeachment inquiry.

Some examples they gave included letters to Rudy Giuliani and two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested last week in a campaign finance investigation, as well as letters sent Wednesday requesting depositions for next week.

“Hinder participation”

The members added that they should not have to rely on staff from other committees, committee websites or media to learn about or locate such records.

“We see no reason for your withholding of these documents except as a deliberate attempt to hinder the Minority’s participation,” their letter reads.

The Republicans further contended that the inquiry lacks any clear intelligence component and that “given that you have recently acknowledged that the Committee no longer needs to receive testimony from the whistleblower, your ‘impeachment inquiry’ lacks any relationship with the jurisdiction of this Committee.

“As you are aware, the Committee was established to conduct crucial oversight of the Intelligence Community, and we are increasingly concerned our normal work is being overlooked in favor of partisan activities best suited for another Committee.”

Schiff’s office had not returned a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Long-term impacts

Also on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that a cease fire had been negotiated with Turkey, which would begin with a pause in military operations for 120 hours while the United States facilitates the withdrawal of the mostly-Kurdish group YPG “from the affected areas in the safe zone.”

“It’s only an agreement if Turkey abides by the agreement, and I’m concerned that Turkey’s not abiding by the cease fire,” Stefanik said.

“This is just another example of an area where I disagree with the administration’s approach.”

The congresswoman has repeatedly said that the U.S. should not have withdrawn from northern Syria, abandoning the Kurds and Syrian Democratic Forces.

“I am just deeply concerned about the long-term impacts of the U.S. leaving our allies who have bravely fought side-by-side when it came to the counter-ISIS campaign, so I strongly support sanctions of Turkey.”

She has joined more than 90 of her fellow Republican colleagues to introduce legislation imposing sanctions.

Accountability

Both Turkey and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime need to be held accountable for the humanitarian crisis in the region, Stefanik said.

Asked about whether President Trump understands the magnitude of the decision to pull out of Syria and the impact of his seemingly inconsistent messaging on how the situation plays out, Stefanik said Trump “has his perspective when it comes to foreign policy and national security.

“I have always said that I will be an independent voice for this district and when I disagree with the administration I will say so.

“There’s a lot of back and forth day-to-day about the rhetoric, but what my biggest concern is I think this was a very short-sighted decision that’s going to have long-term negative impacts on our national security.”